Archive for September 2013
So let’s talk about water. I promised last time to spend a little time on water as I find the “water” issue pretty interesting.
Over the last two years through this Blog, I’ve defined “Green” in two distinct, yet clearly related, ways. First, I define as “Green”, any strategy that tries to limit, or eliminate, the unsustainable depletion of a natural resource. Second, I define as “Green”, any strategy that tries to limit, or eliminate, the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Both are issues that we, as humans, face today as both issues are clicking along at an unsustainable pace. At current levels, coupled with the assumed population growth, we will deplete many many natural resources AND overload the atmosphere with too much CO2. At some point that unsustainable pace of both issues will leave poor Mother Earth in a bad way. Us included.
So how does water fit in? It’s a natural resource. You probably hear more calls for the conservation of water than any other natural resource. Almost every City in America has water saving tips, and you can’t go a day without hearing about a drought somewhere in the news. So what’s different, or interesting, about water? Isn’t it like any other natural resource? There’s only so much and once it’s gone, that’s it? It’s just like coal, or oil, or fish, or natural gas, or rain forests, right?
Not quite. Believe it or not, water is actually more like solar power, or wind power, than coal or oil. Water is an infinitely renewable resource. In a natural cycle, rainwater falls from the clouds, returns to the salty sea through freshwater rivers and evaporates back to the clouds. Regardless of how the water gets used during that cycle, it ALWAYS ends up back in the sea at some point only to begin a new cycle back into the clouds. And the numbers are staggering. Mother Earths hydrological system pumps and transfers about 44,000 cubic KILOMETERS of water to land each year or about 6,900 cubic METERS per every person on the planet. To give perspective, one cubic meter is 264 gallons of water. 6,900 cubic meters is 1.8 MILLION gallons of water. 1.8 MILLION gallons of water PER PERSON falls as rain EVERY year. And there’s 7.1 BILLION of us. That’s a LOT of water. The best estimate right now is that adding up all the water humans use for EVERY reason comes to about 1,700 cubic meters per person. So 4 times the amount of water that 7 billion people use falls as rain EVERY year. Like sunshine and wind, water is plentiful and renewable. So what’s the problem? Why do we need to conserve water like we do other natural resources? There’s more than enough water to go around and always will be.
Here’s the issue and it’s kind of a DUH issue if you think about it. Rain doesn’t fall everywhere evenly. Some people have access to way more water than they need and others have virtually no access to it. The issue with water is the cost of getting it to everyone. There’s plenty to go around. But if you live where it doesn’t rain, or where it eventually flows naturally, then someone has to get it to you. And that’s not cheap. Or easy. Or sometimes practical. Or sometimes even possible. Throughout history human societies have been largely river based. Most cities older than a few hundred years are ALL located on or very near rivers, lakes or at least where it rains a lot. Over the past hundred years or so industrial development came with an increased capacity to move and control water. We no longer had to live close to water. The issue THAT created was that as populations away from water grow, the cost to supply a greater and greater amount of water to areas it doesn’t naturally get to, increase and because it usually affects the amount of water downstream from whatever source is being redirected, the people “downstream” are affected. Over time we end up exhausting the technology to get water where it doesn’t naturally occur. Hence you start telling people they need to conserve water. You don’t hear that in Minnesota but you sure hear it in Los Angeles. But you didn’t hear it in Los Angeles 50 years ago. Technology made it possible to supply Los Angeles with enough water to support a City MUCH larger than it would be able to naturally. However population growth has just about outgrown that technology.
So to me water is interesting because it’s a natural resource and is viewed as needing a “Green” strategy, yet it’s as abundant as sunshine and wind. However, like sunshine and wind, an infinitely renewable resource like water, isn’t really infinitely renewable if it doesn’t occur near where you live. Therefore you DO need a “Green” strategy for water in areas where water doesn’t occur naturally.
Eventually desalination of the oceans has to be the answer, but that’s for another Blog
So I got a tweet the other day titled “New Green technology uses the power of waves to yield fresh water with zero carbon emissions helping to halt global warming”. Wow. Sure seems like a lot of things are going on in that sentence, and you’re probably wondering why it’s showing up in a Green Builders Journal Blog any way. What does that sentence have to do with Homebuilding?
Well here’s what.
When we formed City Ventures 5 years ago we knew we wanted to be on the cutting edge of what it meant to be a Green Builder. However I must admit we didn’t really know what that meant. Buzz words like net zero energy, global warming, energy efficiency, climate change, carbon emissions and the biggest one of all “Green”, were being bantered about by everyone from every journalist on the planet to every advertiser on the planet. No one has the same definition for “Green” but everyone knows they need to BE Green. So how do you do that?
We all used the buzz words and talked about our strategies and desires to build “Green”, but in reality we were courageous and aggressive without being completely educated on the subject. I remember a quote from Boston lead guitarist Tom Scholz that I read when I was a teenager that said “You can’t be truly great at something unless you totally understand how all of it works”. I’ve never forgotten that quote and having worked with a lot of people in homebuilding over the years that had positions of importance but didn’t really understand how ALL the business worked, the quote has been validated. We had chosen to do the right thing and deep down we knew that, but we didn’t totally understand WHY what we had chosen to do was the right thing. That required more education. I took the LEED AP test and became our LEED designer for the Company but even that knowledge didn’t explain the “big picture” why. After five years of immersing ourselves in the Green movement, I now understand how WHAT we do to be Green fits in with the big picture. Or more realistically what the “big picture” indeed is. How all those buzzwords fit together now makes sense. Because they DO fit together. We now understand how it ALL works.
When you read a sentence like the one above, it’s easy to ask “What does water have to do with being Green?” What do carbon emissions have to do with fresh water?” “How would waves in the ocean affect global warming?” and on and on. Well I can explain the answer to that question AND to be true to this Blog I can explain how building a Green house ties in with all those buzzwords as well. I may not get in everything I want to say in just this Blog as I may yammer on about this subject for a while, so bear with me for the next few weeks. It really does get more interesting the more you understand it and it also gets a little scary.
As for the sentence above that inspired this Blog, I want to separate it into two paths of thought that will be the topic of the next few excerpts. The first is the subject of water and its role in the Green movement. It is a commodity and it is a scarce resource but in a different way than other more familiar commodities like coal and oil. The second, and much bigger subject to share, is how the buzzwords like, net zero energy, energy efficiency, carbon emission, global warming and others fit together. And then, most importantly for the purposes of what we do, how WHAT we do fits in with those buzzwords. How homebuilding affects all those buzzwords and how they affect homebuilding.
Let’s start next time with water.